The Swings Over the Years

April 7, 2015
By Hanging Out with Carl Gunn

In the vein of last week’s post on ameliorating sentencing legislation – and maybe because I’m feeling a little lazy this week – I thought I’d share a presentation I gave – just before leaving the Federal Public Defender’s office – on what I called the “history” of changes in the criminal justice system over my lifetime and my career as a public defender.  It was a presentation put on by the California Supreme Court Historical Society that was led by Barbara Babcock, a mentor and former professor of mine (and former public defender), who’s made her most recent project a study of the first Los Angeles County Public Defender, Clara Foltz.

In any event, my presentation on the panel was about the history of changes in the criminal justice system over my lifetime and career as a public defender in the form of the horrible swing toward harshness, and possible glimmers of hope for a swing back.  I also offered some thoughts on how and why restricting sentencing in individual cases with detailed sentencing rules created by bodies like Congress and a Sentencing Commission creates an inherent bias in favor of harshness.

Rather than try to reproduce it all here, I’m attaching the Society’s newsletter that transcribed the presentation for you to read for yourself, linked here. My presentation starts at page 27, but feel free to read the other panelists’ remarks as well, including Barbara’s presentation about Clara Foltz and two local law professors’ presentations on “Public Defense and the Women’s Movement” and “Prosecutorial Misconduct in the Modern Age.”

Perhaps you’ll be able to use some of my thoughts – or your own modification and improvement on them – for policy attacks on the guidelines.  If not, at least entertain yourself with the short “history” of the criminal justice system over my lifetime and career.  I’ll be back next week with something a little less lazy.